Michille: Character Actions

Reading Week Lessons LearnedOne of my favorite writer blogs is Writers Write. Most of what they write about is creative, but they also discuss business writing, and blogging and social media. A recent topic was a fun one for me – 60 Things for Your Characters To DO When They Talk or Think. What things can characters be doing while talking? What actions will reveal character more thoroughly?

When I read the list, I mixed up a few which ended up giving me amusing images, like bathing a cat (I mixed up giving a dog a bath and cuddling a cat) and watering a child (mixed up watering houseplants with watching a child play). Of course, giving a cat a bath could create some hilarity in a story. Some of them seem a little too much like sittin’-and-thinkin’ activities, like knitting, hiking alone, or waiting in the doctor’s office.

A couple of the ideas could yield clues to mystery if that is a part of the story – sorting through photo albums or old papers, cleaning up a hoarder’s mess, or even rearranging furniture. Sorting through medications could be a way to show the ill health of a character or obsession with his/her health if it’s vitamins, minerals, and other supplements. Sharpening knives could be perceived as a threatening act in the right circumstances (or the wrong ones). Ironing clothes could display a character’s OCD if he/she keeps ironing until the seam is absolutely perfect.

I just read a book in which the female character buttered the same piece of toast three times, so I found this post very timely. What do you have your characters do when they are talking or thinking?

8 thoughts on “Michille: Character Actions

  1. My characters eat and drink a lot.

    I don’t know that I’d use a lot of things on this list but it’s a great reminder of the kinds of day-to-day activities that can be pressed into service.

    Lol–I just realized I have a recurring character who gives herself pedicures in my WIP she’s pregnant, which means she soon won’t be able to reach her feet. And since she’s trying to keep her pregnancy secret, poorly groomed feet could be a clue that gives her away.


  2. I love dialogue, but having my characters just sit and talk can be kind of boring. I’ve had characters fix coffee, flip through television stations, do laundry, and feed pets. Best one I liked was having two characters in a car talking. What can they do in a car, though?? Well, the GPS can interrupt their discussion telling them to turn at the next street! Or they can run into that ghost they were looking for. Or not looking for. 🙂

    • In a car, someone could cut them off, or the driver could be one of those vocal drivers who yell at other drivers on the road. I’m trying to think if I’ve read a book with characters in cars and what they’re doing. Nora Roberts has that in The Fall of Shane McCade and Rebecca is musing inside her head about the scenery and getting some serious Deja Vu – not a lot of dialogue, that I recall anyway.

      I like the idea of the GPS interrupting or a smart speaker chiming in.

      • I’ve used the GPS interrupter. Also they eat and do yard work. In one book, they played cards a LOT. “What to discard” can become quite the metaphor. 🙂

        • On a separate note about GPS, I want someone to create a bitchy spouse voice so that when you use the garmin and go a different way, instead of saying ‘recalculating’ it would say “I SAID turn left,” or after a couple of times not following the directions say “FINE, get lost, see if I care.”

  3. One of my characters caught something deftly out of reflex while pretending to be drunk and harmless.

    Knitting can be a real giveaway, whether the character is alone or with others. A normally competent knitter dropping a stitch, or concentrating on something easy when an uncomfortable conversation arises? Dead giveaway. Or a knitter alone, who doesn’t realise that they’re stressed, until they look at their knitting and the tension is now so tight that they can barely knit a stitch.

    I’ve washed cats – mainly after they’ve been on a long-haul flight. It’s so much easier to wash a three-legged cat, as you can easily grab all legs in one hand while soaping, rinsing and drying with the other hand. I recommend having towels and band-aids easily at hand.

    Lots of scope to show stuff!

    • I like the knitting idea, although I couldn’t write it because I’ve never knitted or crocheted, and someone who does would probably get cranky because I’d get it wrong. Washing a cat could has the potential to be a hilarious scene. Thanks for that.

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